Stayin' Alive with The Bee Gees in 1978
It was a simpler time, or maybe we always say that when we look back at the past. Back in the spring of 1978, the Yankees went into spring training as the reigning kings, the Dallas Cowboys were Super Bowl champs, and the politics of President Carter was about to hit a wall.
Over on the Billboard Top 100, it was The Bee Gees 24/7. In fact, from Christmas 1977 to May 1978, a song by The Bee Gees was # 1 on the charts. We had not seen this kind of chart domination since The Beatles in 1964. During the streak, their compositions were also recorded and put on top of the world by younger brother Andy.
What made all of this so amazing is that no one expected success like that from Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb, the trio of brothers. After all, the band couldn't buy a hit on U.S. radio just four years earlier. Like the cat with whatever number of lives, the brothers kept recording, releasing, and finding a new audience for their songs.
It was their family story that always appealed to me. They were more than talented musicians. They were brothers who started singing a long time ago, as written by Juliet Bennett Rylah:
Early on, the three brothers showed a strong connection to music, singing in perfect harmony with one another. By the mid-1950s, the boys were borrowing their older sister's records — Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Tommy Steele — and miming to the music using fake guitars they'd made out of boxes.
This hobby would lead to the brothers' very first public performance in 1956 at The Gaumont, a nearby movie theater where children were allowed to pantomime songs on stage before Saturday matinees. The brothers practiced with two neighborhood friends, Paul Frost and Kenny Oricks, calling themselves The Rattlesnakes. Yet just before their big debut, the sound tech dropped and shattered Leslie's record. Though only Barry had a real guitar, they decided their debut would not be thwarted. They went on and sang the song with only Barry's strumming for musical accompaniment. What song it was, exactly, no one can remember, but Robin recalls that the kids in the theater loved it. "We were sort of an instant hit," he said. The theater manager was so impressed that he sent them to another movie house down the street to play the song again.
From that moment on, Barry said all the brothers cared about was getting discovered. "It was the feeling of standing in front of an audience that was so amazing. We'd never seen anything like it. We were very young, but it made an enormous impression. We didn't want to do anything else but make music."
The brothers renamed themselves Wee Johnny Hays and the Bluecats, and went on to mime and sing more songs in local theaters. When the family decided to emigrate to Australia, Barbara recalled finding the boys performing for their fellow passengers on several occasions over the course of the five-week journey. The Gibbs arrived to their new home in 1958. By this point, the family had grown to include baby Andy Roy, born on March 5 of that same year.
While Hugh was making a living in Queensland as a photographer, Barry, Maurice, and Robin made a serendipitous trip down to the Redcliffe Speedway in 1959. Toting along Barry's guitar, they asked permission to play between races. They played their own compositions, which caught the attention of racing driver Bill Goode. Goode contacted his friend, DJ Bill Gates, and told them about the three young songsters.
Eventually, they became The Bee Gees, or Brothers Gibb. They signed with Robert Stigwood and had international hits in 1967 when Barry was 20 and the twins were 18. They wrote ballads like "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," classics like "To Love Somebody," and super-tunes like "Massachusetts" — and even Elvis recorded "Words," one of their other great compositions. Then they hit the jackpot with the music of "Saturday Night Fever," and that takes us to the spring of 1978.
Only Barry is around these days. Maurice died suddenly in 2003. Robin died of cancer in 2012. Turn on any oldies station, and you are likely to hear one of their songs. I don't know what their songbook is worth, but it will keep generations living well.
Nineteen seventy-eight was a great year to be The Bee Gees and a good one to distract us from gasoline prices and Ukraine.
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Image via Flickr, public domain.